It’s the season for weekend fun runs, charity 5Ks and multi-stage team relays. But as recreation and competitive runners hit the roads and trails to prepare for upcoming events, local physical therapist Brian Haden, reminds us that avoiding common early season training mistakes can keep runners healthy and competitive throughout the season.

This is an especially important message considering about 60 to 65 percent of all runners experience an injury during the average year.

“Running injuries are common, especially early in the season when people are training and prepping for races by getting their bodies back into shape,” said Haden, physical therapist at Aquatic Care Programs in Houston and Humble. “Plantar fasciitis, Achilles problems, knee pain, IT band friction syndrome … these are all common running injuries, often caused this time of year by doing too much too soon, and doing so lacking proper strength, flexibility or form.”

To help keep runners on schedule throughout the spring and summer outdoor season, Haden suggests avoiding the following five running mistakes:

  1. Skipping Warmup and Cooldown: While workout windows can be tight and difficult to secure during a given week, don’t use time constraints as an excuse to avoid properly warming up and cooling down before and after a run, Haden said. Some walking, light jogging, skipping, high knees and butt kicks prior to running increases heart rate and circulation, loosens up the joints and increases blood flow to the muscles. For your cooldown, do some light walking and stretching to help reduce the buildup of lactic acid, which can lead to stiffness and muscle cramps.
  2. Wearing the Wrong Shoes: How your feet strike the ground will affect muscles and joints throughout your body’s entire kinetic chain, from the feet and ankles, through the knees and hips, and up into your spine and torso. “If your shoes don’t fit properly, support your feet correctly or sufficiently absorb the impact of each stride, you’re going to feel it,” Haden said. “It’s important to not only wear a good, high-quality shoe, but also one that matches your foot type.”
  3. Not Listening to the Body: Don’t subscribe to a “no pain, no gain” model when running. Sure, you’ll want to push your body hard, Haden said, but if you feel pain or an unnatural level of discomfort or fatigue, stop, assess and seek treatment from a physical therapist or other medical professional, if necessary.
  4. Focusing Only on Cardio Fitness: With running, cardio fitness is certainly important. But when it comes to both injury prevention and performance enhancement, flexibility and strength are equally as vital. Stretch daily and during cooldown periods, Haden said, and build strength in your calves, knees, hips and core through heel drops and body weight squats.
  5. Forgetting to Rest: It’s good to push yourself, but rest and recovery are essential in avoiding injury, burnout and plateauing before you’ve reached your fullest potential. So always work rest into your long-term training regimen. “This doesn’t mean just kicking up your feet and relaxing for a day,” Haden said. “Sometimes, ‘rest’ can simply mean mixing up your training so you’re not challenging your body the same way every day.”

To learn more about proper training, including personalized assessments and the development of training regimens that can enhance your running performance and ensure optimal injury prevention, contact the physical therapy team at Aquatic Care Programs.  Aquatic Care Programs is uniquely able to help runners maintain conditioning while utilizing physical therapy to recover from an injury through use of their therapeutic pool and the various deep water and shallow water running techniques.